THE CAMBODIAN SPIRIT
After Vietnam next on my itinerary was Cambodia. Mogens and I said goodbye to Bo and jumped on a plane to Siem Reap early morning.Cambodia formerly Kampuchea located in the Southern part of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Estimated population 16 million people and mostly Buddhists. The country borders with Thailand to the North, Laos to the Northeast and Vietnam to the East. The capital is Phnom Penh.
The bloody history of Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge and other bloody wars is now in the past and Cambodia is slowly taking its rightful place in Asia. With the largest Temple complex ( Angkor Wat )in the world surrounded by primary jungle, The Mighty Mekong River, stunningly beautiful beaches and tropical Islands to the South and the perfect clime, you have all it takes for a real adventure. Welcome to Cambodia.
THE GATEWAY TO GOD
Siem Reap a town in Northwest Cambodia with around 140 thousand citizen, it is the epicentre of tourism and the gateway to the Temples. Here you have every thing a tourist can dream of in fancy Hotels, Hostels filled with backpackers from around the world and great shopping. You have hip bars, cheap dinning and fine cusine in world-class restaurants. Siem Reap is the perfect getaway to Angkor Vat and the attractions in the area.
I had booked us a Hotel in the city centre, and not cheap. That was a bad experience. The steps to our rooms was more like a ladder ( very difficult with my new knee ) the walls in the room were so thin, that you could hear everything around and the promised safety box was, ,, I don`t know what ,,, Anything but safe. I always use Hotel.com and I know they will do something about it if your complains is fair. Well for the moment not much to do about it, so we found a transport, a TukTuk to the gate of Angkor Wat. We agreed a price for rest of the day and went to the Temple complex.
CITY OF THE GOD KINGS
The Eight Wonder of the World Angkor Wat is by far the most impressive Temple I have ever seen,,, and I have seen many. When London was a city with less than 50 thousand citizen, Ancor Wat was home to more than 1 million people, and far more civilized. It existed from the 7th to the 13th and the capital was Angkor.
They lived on fishing in lake Tonle Sap and rice cultivation. Jayavarman the second left his home to live on the mainland. He built a Temple and declared him self as The God of Kings, the beginning of the city Angkor Thom (the big city). This enormous complex was discovered by the Frenchman Henri Mouhot, when he cut his way through the thick jungle.
Angkor Wat has over the years been the location of many Hollywood movies as Indiana Jones and Tomb Rider. We spend the hole day here visiting the different locations with the final at the big Temple. The evening in Siem Reap with food and beer.
THE BIG LAKE THAT RUNS BOTH WAYS
Next day we hired a taxi to take us to Lake Tonle Sap 15 kilometers from Siem Reap. The largest fresh water lake in all of Southeast Asia and home to more than three million people living on fishing and agriculture.
The 120 kilometer lake is connected with the Mekong River. In the raining season from June to October the lake is filled with water flowing from The Mighty Mekong with 14 meters in depth and expands the surface of 10 thousand square kilometers.
In the dry season from November to May its size 3 thousand sq kilometers with two meters in depth and water flows back into the Mekong River. This rare phenomenon only happens here, no where else in the world. The lake runs both ways. Life here is the attraction with amazing bird life and the lake full of fish and crocodiles. Especially Chong Khneas the famous floating village at Southern part of the lake is interesting with a functioning community in floating households and floating markets with temples on stilts, clinics, schools and others.
We rented a boat and experienced the village on stilts and the life around. We had lunch at the marked. The afternoon we hiked a hill top for a fantastic view over the lake. It was time to move on, and we had decided that we needed some beach life, so next morning a plane to Shihanoukville.
We arrived early in Shihanoukville and after settling in our hotel at Occcheuteal beach,we rented motorbikes and start exploring the area. Shihanoukville is the place to go in Cambodia for beautiful white sand beaches and secluded Islands. First we drove north of downtown to Independence Beach with clean sand then Victory Hill, like a mini Khao San Road ,Thailand with bars and cheap hostels a backpackers heaven. After lunch south of downtown the quit almost empty pretty Otres beach, with few restaurants, bars and hotels in the south end.
It became my favorite. The rest of the day sun , beer and massage on the beach. The evening fresh fish in Occcheuteal beach. Next morning we rented bikes and again Otres beach. The third day we sailed two hours to Koh Rong Island and enjoyed the best beaches in Cambodia relaxation and beer before the ending of Mogens vacation. We took a night bus to Phnom Penh and landed next morning.
THE CITY OF FOUR FACES
Phnom Pehn the capital is situated at the confluence of three rivers the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap in the south of Cambodia, and around 1,5 million lives here. The City of four Faces referee's to because Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers crosses and X marks the spot. The former Pearl of Asia is now after years of suffering from the times of Pol Pot, again rising and slowly find its rightfully place as one of Asia's most beautiful and modern capitals.
It is a beautiful city and like elsewhere with French influence in colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards in a beautiful mix with temples. modern building's and the local Cambodian charm found on their exotic marketplaces. Or stroll down to Sisowath quay and visit the The Royal Palace and The silver Pagoda alongside the mighty Mekong The nightlife with hip bars, Top dollar restaurants and world class nightlife. Phnom Pheng has it all. We only had a couple of days together so we started at Killing Fields and S21. To understand the history of Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge,,, IT IS A MUST DO. It is a scary experience and you can`t help being emotion ed. The Dark Ghost of Cambodia.
THE ENIGMATIC KILLER
A boy named Saloth Sar was born 1928 in a wealthy peasant family in Phnom Phen. Nobody had seen this coming, he was a quit ordinary boy and not specially gifted, and had showed non interest in politics. His family all though had close relations to the Cambodian Royalties, and that led to the best schools in France and in 1949 his was send to Paris to be educated. Here he found his call and inspiration in the France communist party. He joined the France communist party in 1952 and became active. The condemnation of France occupation and the American bombing of Cambodia became the germ, that led to Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge. He dreamt of a Cambodia as a independent peasant nation, whit out any interfering from USA, France and Vietnam. At first when Pol Pot and his rebel army in 1975 overturned the government, the people saw him a a liberator and a hero, and they had hope for peace. But he saw enemies every were and developed paranoia. He started to kill anyone with different believes, School teachers, students,businessmen about all the intellectuals. That led to one of the worst folk genocide the world have ever seen. He killed almost one third of the population 1,7 million people.
At the killing field a tree stands witnesses some of the horror, when start digging the Killing Fields they found a mass grave with children bodies molested. Later on i talking to witnesses, they found that the children's head were smashed into the tree, while there parents were watching. All over the killing Fields and places like that around in Cambodia they found mass graves. When I did the tour wearing headset telling the stories about the horror and watch the museum, I got very sad,,, What makes human being do things like that.
SECOND IN LINE
The afternoon we spend visiting first went down to Sosowath Quay to enjoy the life around the beautiful promenade, then the The Silver Pagoda, where I had the amazing experience to met the most important monk in all of Cambodia and second in line after Dalai Lama. I asked if I could talk to him, and he blessed me.
Next the Royal Palace, very impressive. It was time to say farewell to Mogens. He jumped on a Tuk Tuk to the airport and I continued the sightseeing in Phnom Penh. Next on my list was to buy new walking shoes. After that down to the marked strolling around.
Sitting at a bar I was approached by a guy who wanted to fix my sandals, and after half an hour they were as good as new. It was time to move one.
THE SILENT DOLPHINS
In 2012 seven Buddhist monks in saffron colored clothes, alongside high ranking politicians, local fishermen and hundreds of school kids, threw white flower leaves in the Mekong River and blessed the Irrawaddy Dolphins. It was a Solemn ceremony because of a decree from the government saving the Irrawaddy Dolphins. Estimated 85 of this rare species of Dolphins left in the world, and they only live in Cambodia and Laos. Because of the use of pesticides and pollution they are close to extinction. Next morning I jumped on a bus 6 Am to Kratie, and in a strange mode. The last more than three weeks I have been like a guide to my two friends, so now alone it was TOMMY TIME.
I had decided to do a stop in Kratie and discover the life in this remote part of the country and a chance to see the Dolphins. The life here is 100 % connected to the river, fishermen and farmers are totally depended on the river. But the use of pesticides and other toxic has polluted the area and especially the Dolphins and the fishing stock are infected. I found a hotel in Kratie with a fantastic view to the river and the glorious sunset. Kratie a very remote but beautiful small town with architecture from the time of the French.
Is the perfect stop on the way to Laos, and a chance to interact with the local fisher folk and a glimpse of the everyday life here. The rest of the day I explored the city and the evening Fish, beer and a glorious sunset on the banks of Mekong. Next morning I went on a boat with a local fisherman to discover the Dolphins. Its not like when you see them in the Ocean with spectacular shows, these Dolphins are very shy, so you only see them in moments. Later on he sailed me to a small fishing community, were I had lunch, swimming in Mekong and hangout with the locals.
The afternoon I visited a hilltop with a little Temple and all the way up flanked with Buddha's. On top I was blessed with a fantastic sunset, A nice way to end my Cambodian adventure for this time.
Despite the horror from the time of Pol Pot and all the suffering, the spirit of the folk and the land is strong. With attractions as Anchor Wat, the life around Mekong river and lake Tonle Sap, Breathtaking beautiful beaches and Islands are together with the kind people of Cambodia the reason why you should visit this amazing country.